Dance review: Singapore Dance Theatre at their joyous best in Don Quixote

Dancers Rosa Park and Chen Peng in Don Quixote, a ballet by the Singapore Dance Theatre. -- PHOTO: BERNIE NG
Dancers Rosa Park and Chen Peng in Don Quixote, a ballet by the Singapore Dance Theatre. -- PHOTO: BERNIE NG

Best known for its firecracker solos for its principal dancers, Don Quixote is a classical warhorse which had its premiere in Moscow in 1869. Based on an episode from Miguel de Cervantes' eponymous novel, the ballet was created to be a grand spectacle, a crowd-pleasing view of sunny Spain. Narratively, Don Quixote is problematic, with its central characters thinly sketched but notwithstanding, the ballet is an unadulterated romp, producing simple pleasures.

It is a major coup for Singapore Dance Theatre to have Cynthia Harvey, renowned ballerina and indeed one of the definitive Kitris in Don Quixote, here to stage the ballet for the first time. She seems to have breathed life into the company, which looks to be in the best form it has been in recent years, in this handsomely designed production by Bruce McKinven.

Singapore Dance Theatre is far from big and brassy, and the nonchalant flamboyance, slapstick comedy and loveably over-the-top characters of Don Quixote slightly elude its dancers. Retaining most of the ballet's Spanish-inflected choreography, the company presents a tamer version of the ballet featuring a deluded old knight and his servant, young lovers and a camp suitor. The ensemble is rehearsed rather than raucous, clapping and snapping their fingers on cue instead of as a response to the action.

Despite there being so much going on, the ballet's first act drags on like an extended duet for the leads, Kitri and Basilio, happily interrupted by character dances and excessive amounts of flirting and flouncing, pouting and shrugging. There is no room for dramatic momentum amidst all the dizzying pirouettes, high-flying jumps and daring one-armed lifts.

Subsequent acts constitute more of the same dancing on a grand scale. Don Quixote's vision scene sees the corps de ballet neatly in unison as dryads while in the role of Cupid, Akira Nakahama's infectious smile and fleet footwork light up the stage. Here, where the stately decorum of classical ballet is restored, the company seems more at ease.

The fresh-faced Chen Peng lends a boyish charm to Basilio, turning in some of his most secure dancing. Rosa Park plays a cheeky, self-possessed Kitri, unflappable in both technique and character. Deceptively powerful, she whips off consecutive pirouettes with an insouciant grace and adroitly averts a mishap with her fan. As Kitri's girlfriends, Elaine Heng and Maughan Jemesen are a winsome duo, delivering their solos with brio.

With its tricks and thrills, this Don Quixote is a marvelous addition to Singapore Dance Theatre's repertoire. When the dancers are truly having fun, the felicity transcends the proscenium.

Book it

DON QUIXOTE

Where: Esplanade Theatre

When: Friday, 8pm; Saturday, 1 and 8pm; Sunday, 1 and 7pm

Admission: $30, $50 and $70 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)